The Amazing Race

Robyn Metcalfe (GRS’09) crossed the Atacama Desert in Chile in August, part of a four-desert footrace.

September 19, 2007
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What would draw an athlete to desert racing? For Robyn Metcalfe (GRS’09), who crossed the Atacama Desert in Chile on foot in August, part of it was the heat, of course. “During one of Boston’s cold winters, I found this race and thought it sounded warm,” says Metcalfe, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in history.

The trek was part of an international race: 155 miles in seven days, fully self-supported, across the driest desert on the planet.

Metcalfe participated in the race with her 18-year-old son, Max. They traveled an average of 25 miles a day across rivers, over mountain passes, and through salt flats and slot canyons. “We even managed to slip through one section of land mines, late at night,” Metcalfe says. Rigorous physical training helped the two prepare for the conditions. At home, Metcalfe regularly works with a coach, combining strength training with bicycling, swimming, and trail running.

The Atacama Crossing is part of a four-desert footrace series operated by Racing the Planet, an organization that challenges individuals to push themselves in some of the most extreme locations on earth. The four races are all the same distance and the same time frame, but the settings are dramatically different: the Gobi Desert of China, the Sahara Desert of Egypt, the Atacama Desert, and Antarctica. The most recent event, in Chile, brought together more than 60 competitors from the United States, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Chile, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.

In 2006, Metcalfe completed the Gobi March, and she is looking forward to the Sahara Race in 2009. “I’m not sure I’ll do the final one, Antarctica,” she says. “It seems so cold!”
Jessica Leving can be reached at



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